Click here for Part 1.
The next day, the morning dawns bright and sunny, albeit with a slightly chilly undertone. But, by now, having spent two days in NZ, I have realized that the morning chill is largely deceptive. It sticks around for a couple of hours and then ditches summer for the rest of the day. Thus, in contrast to the past two days of wearing warm clothes and then complaining or having to change mid-day, I dress myself more in tune with the weather. Today, our first stop is the souvenir shop. You must be wondering why we’re making a souvenir stop mid-way through our trip. Here’s where I rake up the mistakes from NZ Part 1 (remember the flip flops and the office formal footwear?) A half hour later, armed with decent walking footwear, we make our way down to the Fox Glacier.
|Driving south-west from Punakaiki Pancake Rocks to Fox Glacier and finally to Queenstown|
Just like we have our very own Siachen Glacier in North India, NZ boasts of two huge glaciers – Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph. However, as opposed to the Siachen’s 70 km length, Fox Glacier is only 13 kms in length and Franz Joseph - 12 kms in length. We head down to Fox Glacier and park a distance away. We are told that there are many ways to experience the Glacier. Interested parties can enlist for an eight hour guided hike atop the Glacier (See the tiny people below? That’s what they’re doing!). Those pressed for time have an option of hiring a helicopter which drops you on the Glacier and then you can hike with a guide for two hours and, I presume, the helicopter brings you back. Obviously, the second option will be expensive. In both cases, hiking shoes, protective gear, torches and the like are provided. (To a friend who loves nature hikes, you’ll absolutely love this experience!)
|Tourist guides lead hikers through the crevices of Fox Glacier|
I am not interested in ice anymore. My husband isn't very particular either. Having lived in Minnesota - real life Narnia - for eight years, I have walked on all the ice and snow I would like to walk on in a life time. I can easily go a good dozen years without ever wanting to see ice and snow again. You’re probably arguing – but it’s a glacier! That’s different! You know - how you fall in love with an image, and then when you come face-to-face with it, initially you’re mesmerized, you probably even fall in love with it, and then when it goes overboard you kind of lose interest? That was the story of my relationship with ice and snow.
|Snow covered Minnesota|
I loved the first couple winters – went crazy building snowmen and having snow fights. Then, when I started getting tired of having to wrap myself in bales of wool and warmth even to step out to the next building, I couldn't wait for the snow and dirty ice to melt away! But, even as I moved out of Minnesota, I still loved the first snow of the season. Some experiences and memories are just too precious, they never fail to enthrall you! So anyway, back to the glacier. Those who do not wish to hike on the ice, still need to hike about a km uphill (steep) to get to the face of the glacier. And so, off we go. Loose rocks and gravel crunch below my feet.
|The guided tour makes its way back, down the mountain|
Towering mountains stand upright on both sides. To our left, moss and grass cover up the face of the mountain. To our right, the cliff falls away, steep and scary. Thin roped barricades have been put up, but if someone were to slip, it would not hold their weight. Every morning, depending on how the glacier advances through the week, barricades are adjusted.
|A 'Red for Danger' sign board warns trekkers to stay well within the safety limits|
The strange fact about the glacier is that after having retreated for 100+ years, it has now been advancing for the past few years. The guide at the spot tells us two Indian tourists from Australia lost their lives recently when they stepped ½ km into the safety barriers to click pictures and fell into the icy chasms. It makes me shudder for a second, but we drudge on well inside the safety barriers. I see the elderly walking with canes and matching us step to step, and it reminds me how much I need to work on my fitness.
We get to the closest access point possible and the cool air drifting in from the direction of the glacier makes me shiver even in the warm summer heat. We watch people beginning their hike atop the glacier. We have come armed with Styrofoam cups of coffee, and though they have lost some of their heat, sipping hot coffee at the top of a mountain right next to an ice cold glacier can be a high in itself! Perched on some makeshift boulder seats, we take in the views for a little while. Surrounded by nature on all sides can be an exhilarating and a grounding experience at the same time. By the time we get back down on level ground, it’s past lunch time. We grab a quick snack on the way and start our drive down to Queenstown.
|Driving down to Queenstown with the lake stretching out on the right|
This is how every little town in NZ is. Little singular attractions on which the rest of the town thrives. Incomes flow in through these tourist attractions and most employment in these towns run to support these attractions and related establishments like coffee houses and trek gear rentals. The drive down from Fox Glacier takes us a good portion of about five hours as we make a few scenic stops along the way.
|A diner, ensconced among the mighty mountains, one of many on the way to Queenstown|
Unlike the little towns we have witnessed so far, Queenstown is a major bustling metropolis in itself. Built mostly around one part of the huge lake Wakatipu, this town is every bit a nature lover’s destination and an adventure seeker’s paradise. From bungee jumping to white water rafting, from sky diving to jet boating, Queenstown is a complete 180 degree turn from the quiet serenity so far. The streets are crowded, there are roundabouts in the middle of the city – a traffic setup not experienced in NZ so far and people! East Asians, Caucasians, Indians and more East Asians! Parking is at a premium and we drive around for a little while, finally deciding to simply check in to our hotel. Karauwaki by Hilton, the first actual ‘hotel’ on our trip so far, turns out to be on the other side of the lake – away from all the hubbub. It takes us twenty minutes to get out of the traffic and drive down to our hotel. We chuckle at the thought that maybe 4.3 million of the 4.4 million might be from Queenstown. (This, until we encounter Dunedin!)
|A view of the Lake Wakatipu|
The meticulously groomed reception staff paste on a plastic smile and suddenly I find myself missing the friendly motel owners. Declining the offer to add on internet for $30 a night, we take our credit-card style key cards and trudge along to our room – one in many, along a long dimly-lit, classy, well-polished, un-ventilated hallway. We decide to freshen up and step out for dinner. The ‘travel booth’ near the reception, offers us options – considering that parking is a problem in the city, we can either avail of a boat ride – a jetty or a bus. We’re given timetables of the jetty rides and the buses, instructed on when the last bus leaves from the city, informed about one-way versus two-way rates and then sent along our way. Since it’s late already and we do not want to try our luck with the last bus back, we decide to drive and scour around for a parking spot. Luck favours us and thus parked, we walk along the streets peering into shops, adventure rides agents, haute couture boutiques and debate cuisines. Thailand wins hands down on Day 3 and thus, with the scrumptious flat wheat noodles, coconut flavours and spicy curries playing havoc on my taste buds, another beautiful day slowly draws to an end. Day 4 tells me about a beautiful legend, much like the fairy tales I used to listen to in childhood – about the Lake Wakatipu. Come back here to read about NZ’s very own Rakshas!
Please note: I have put in effort to crop personal images to make them non-personal for the blog. Because I have had a couple of requests - If you wish to use these pictures elsewhere, please feel free to. And even though there's no obligation to, I would love it if you would let me know of it or better yet, pass on image credits!I would love to hear your views!